The 32-year-old surfing instructor and bartender from Venice, CA might have thought he was on Big Brother -- "expect the unexpected" -- instead of Survivor: China, as he was blind-sided and became the fifth castaway eliminated during last night's broadcast.
On Friday, Aaron talked to Reality TV World about how his subtle attempt at leading wasn't very subtle; if there was anything romantic between him and another castaway; why he thought he was going all the way to the finish; and what eventually brought that thinking to a screeching halt.
Reality TV World: How did you end up being cast for Survivor: China? Had you applied to the show before?
Aaron: No, I haven't applied before. I kind of ran into someone -- a casting person -- and she thought I would be good for the show. One thing led to another and maybe like 10 days later I was on a flight to China.
Reality TV World: Had you watched a lot of Survivorbefore going on the show?
Aaron: I had seen about three seasons.
Reality TV World: Would you consider yourself a fan?
Aaron: Yeah. It's intriguing to watch. I watched the first two and then I watched [Survivor: Pearl Islands]. It was really entertaining... I had so many friends and family who hadn't watched it, now they are beginning to watch it now that they had somebody on the show. They were like so intrigued. Once you start to align yourself and you get involved with the characters, it's a lot of fun.
Reality TV World: How did you prepare yourself both physically and mentally prior to leaving for the competition?
Aaron: I've always been pretty athletic, always working out. I just kind of stepped it up a bit, did a little bit more cardio. I didn't really fast or anything to get ready, as far as like not having any food or anything like that [once the competition began], because it was like, "I better eat now because I'm not going to later." That was my mentality on that part. Also, just to brush-up on natural survival skills like how to build a fire, how to build a shelter, what to do in-case of an emergency, what you can do to make life easier out there.
Reality TV World: As you arrived at the Fei Long camp, you commented how you wanted to be the tribe's leader but wanted do so "as subtle as possible." Do you think you were able to accomplish that?
Aaron: You know what, it wasn't quite as subtle as I expected (laughing). [Fellow Fei Long member Todd Herzog] wanted to push that on me, and I kind of fell into that role. I kind of maybe thought that I would, and that was maybe a self-actualization role for me. It didn't really pan out in this season, of like, "Hey, we'll take the two strongest players in this big switch." I think that if the switch didn't happen, I had a pretty good chance of making it pretty far. I thought I had a strong alliance, I thought I had some pull with the group and that we could go pretty far.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised when Todd singled you out as Fei Long's leader?
Aaron: Not really... It's kind of like more of a natural fit I felt. In hindsight -- what I saw on television -- was [Todd's] confessional of, "Hey, I'll push [the leadership role] on Aaron." He didn't exactly say that to me, it wasn't so blatant.
Reality TV World: Todd also alluded to an alliance he formed with Amanda Kimmel and yourself. Was there an alliance between the three of you?
Aaron: Yeah. It was Todd, Amanda and I.
I think we were planning on going all the way with each other. I thought it was going to be a great thing. I thought we get three people in -- we trust that -- and then we don't ever break it, and we'll find ourselves in the end. We were Fei Long; we were winning. In the alliance, I was the leader. I had -- I thought I had -- some pull with the other [Fei Long] members. But you never know what's going to happen if things would have went differently.
Reality TV World: Were you aligned with any other Fei Long members? The only reason I ask is because based on what they showed on last night's episode, Jean-Robert Bellande seemed to consider you his closest ally.
Aaron: That's awesome (laughing hysterically). That's so great! Yeah, Jean-Robert and I didn't get along at all. There was a moment in there that they haven't shown, he was grasping at some straws. He was pulling out all the stops. At some point, he said something to me about being in an alliance and I agreed with him so he would lay-off a little bit. But our agreement was to not vote him out before the merger... before the merge happened. But that was kind of irrelevant. I would have voted him out if we had lost.
Reality TV World: What was it like at Fei Long in those first few days since the tribe was so dominant in the challenges? Do you think the tribes were divided fairly?
Aaron: You think we -- Fei Long -- were worried about losing!?
Reality TV World: Were you worried about losing?
Aaron: No, no, no... We kind of got a dose of reality in [Survivor: China'sthird episode]. We had been 3-0 going into it. We were rolling. Then we lost two [challenges] in a row. We thought, "Wow, okay. This is our wake-up call." We made some decisions, and I made some decisions, in the challenge that weren't very strategic. You know, putting in [fellow Fei Long member Courtney Yates] to chop. We weren't really playing with our brains. We were playing more like who wants to participate.
So we backed up off that, and then we ended up winning the next two [challenges]. It was like, "Wow! We really have a good thing going here. We were going to dwindle Zhan Hu's numbers, we're going to go to the merge, and we're going to completely eliminate them. Then we'll go from there."
Reality TV World: When Fei Long kidnapped Zhan Hu member Jaime Dugan, some of your fellow tribe members were upset that you and Jean-Robert were bickering in-front of her about his work ethic. Do you think it hurt your standing with Fei Long?
Aaron: You know, Courtney had her confessional and she said that, "Oh great, there's dissension in the group." Well you know what, when you go into the merger, there's always going to be dissension. I felt like -- what I was saying to Jean-Robert -- was rightly done. Should I have done that in-front of Jaime? Who knows... I don't think it really mattered... If the merge would have happened, and Jean-Robert would still be there, it probably would have been a miracle if we hadn't lost because -- after [fellow former Fei Long member Leslie Nease] -- he was pretty much the one on the chopping block.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised Jaime subsequently told Zhan Hu you were Fei Long's leader?
Aaron: No, I pretty much expected that. I couldn't really exactly hide that much. Probably -- I can't really recall that well -- but it was probably when Jaime was there at Fei Long, they probably called me "leader" behind my back more often than not when she was there just so I have that target.
Reality TV World: You seemed concerned when Leslie was kidnapped by Zhan Hu, calling it a "major liability" for Fei Long. Why did you think that and was it a contributing factor in your vote to eliminate Leslie?
Aaron: It was completely a contributing factor. It was one of the main reasons. When someone goes over to the other side, there's always a mistrust that goes on. There's a flip-flop that can occur. I mean look what happened to [ousted Zhan Hu memberDave Cruser, who had been kidnapped by Fei Long]. Look what happened to Leslie.
She seemed to have just a little bit too much of a peachy-keen kind of time over there. We were just like, "Really? Is it all that great?" She was like, "Yeah! They get along and everything was great and Jaime's really nice and so-and-so is really nice." We were thinking, "Uh-oh. You probably ought to be a little more subtle than that because now we can't really trust you at all." It turned out it probably wasn't really like that, but you know, you can't trust it.
Reality TV World: When we spoke to Leslie, she said you and Amanda were "really close" and believed "a romantic thing" was going on. Was that the case?
Aaron: No. There wasn't really any romantic thing going on. You know, Amanda's a beautiful woman and we had a good time. We were like paired up a lot in the challenges, but there wasn't really any sparks or chemistry. It was on the other side with [Zhan Hu members Jaime and Erik Huffman], but in that situation, it was one of the last things I was thinking about.
But I'll tell you what I was thinking about. If there is that small attraction to me that might not be happening to the fullest extent, I mean you could play that to your advantage later on in the game.
Reality TV World: Were you aware of the Hidden Immunity Idol at Fei Long's camp?
Aaron: No. We weren't made aware of that at all. It just kind of was something that the kidnapped people gave the secrets back and forth. The funny thing is, that the craftiest and most wily [person in our tribe] was privy to the most information. That was Todd. Right now, he's got three clues [to the location of the Hidden Immunity Idol].
Reality TV World: What was your initial reaction when you realized there was a good chance Zhan Hu was going to trade for you during last night's episode?
Aaron: We were pretty set that we knew [Zhan Hu was going to trade for Fei Long member James Clement]... The wording in the scroll that we got, it said, "strongest player" and it also said to "win challenges and to win Immunity." If it had been worded differently, you never know who would've went.
But then you just get this feeling, and you get, "Uh-oh. This is not good." You end up going over there, and it's like, "Oh gosh. Now [James and I] are outnumbered."
Reality TV World: The other tribe focused strictly on strength when they picked James and yourself. Michael "Frosti" Zernow was kind of a no-brainer for Fei Long to pick, but what was the thinking in taking Sherea Lloyd over Erik?
Aaron: We continued to think that as far as Erik was concerned... With Frosti, we just thought it was a better fit for us. I could still -- in an equal battle -- I could still take Erik. Frosti would come over and he's a little bit faster, a little bit smaller, a lot more agile.
Then Sherea, she was amazing in the challenges. She pulled the weight across [the finish line] with all the coins on-top of it in the chopping challenge. She was just amazing in the king-of-the-hill kind of thing and also with the smack-down in the mud. So it was like, "Okay. We get one more strong girl on our team. We pair her with Amanda, and you never know what's going to happen."
Reality TV World: Had your tribe been able to sense the Erik/Jamie relationship? If so, did you guys give any thought to taking Erik and breaking the pair up?
Aaron: We weren't aware of the relationship at all. When Leslie went over [to Zhan Hu], we knew they all kind of had some... their beliefs were the same and then also that they were kind of like from the same area of the United States. That in and of itself proved dangerous. You kind of have to go with your gut feeling, you have to make your assumptions. We felt that Leslie was going to be dangerous like that, and eventually flip-flop over there if the merged happened. But [Fei Long] didn't have any idea about Jaime and Erik.
Reality TV World: Zhan Hu member Peih-Gee Law saw through your attempts to put a target on James and she described you as "crafty." Seeing as how it played a role in your elimination, what do you think gave her that impression?
Aaron: People aren't stupid. She saw us as we were coming over, she was like, "They're all gung-ho. They're going to try to get us to go all the way [ to the merge] and win every challenge." And that was the card that [James and I] played.
The other card that we could have played was to find like a splinter [among Peih-Gee, Jaime and Erik]. But you couldn't do both, and we just decided to go with, "Hey, let's take this five all the way to the end." When we found out that Peih-Gee and Jaime had thrown [the Immunity Challenge], James was just absolutely livid and couldn't believe it. He became very outspoken, and I was just like, "I've been outspoken. I've been a leader and had a target on my back long enough. I'm going to let him continue in order to save my butt."
Reality TV World: Jaime had previously been kidnapped by Fei Long and spent time with your tribe. Did you feel you had a good relationship with Jaime, better than the one she might have had with James?
Aaron: Yeah, you know what, she's a really smart player. She plays her cards close to her heart. She wasn't giving a whole lot of information out when she was over at Fei Long. Actually, in retrospect I think she told some lies about what was going on over at [Zhan Hu]...
Reality TV World: That's interesting...
Aaron: I can't recall it in detail, but I know it proved not be quite so. But she's a crafty player, and I never really made a connection with her [at Fei Long]. I know Jean-Robert spent some time with her alone, and then also obviously she gave Leslie the clue to the Hidden Immunity Idol.
Reality TV World: When the tribes showed up at the challenge, a lot of the castaways seemed to suddenly be wearing new swimsuits. Was there some new clothing at the bottom of those welcome baskets or did some type of Reward Challenge end up being edited out of the episode? If not, where did the new outfits come from?
Aaron: When we got Tree Mail for the Immunity Challenge to tell us what exactly to do and give us the hint of where to go and how to get there and what to prepare for, that's where our swimsuits were.
Reality TV World: Did they give any reason why they gave them to you?
Reality TV World: During Immunity Challenge shown on last night's episode, did it ever cross your mind that Peih-Gee and Jaime might throw the challenge?
Aaron: No. Not at all. We thought when you go into something like this, you're a pretty competitive person and I had no idea that that's what they were going to do.
Reality TV World: When did you first become aware that they lost on purpose to eliminate either you or James?
Aaron: When we returned to camp from the boat [after the Immunity Challenge], James was just like, "I don't know what was wrong with you women. But you're not sending Eric, and you're not sending Aaron home because they busted their butts to help win." He just kept going on and on. They were just being a little too like not worrisome about it all. Just a little flip and a little blase. It was just they were mingling off by themselves, and that's when I started to get an inkling that, "Hey, maybe this isn't all it's cracked up to be."
Reality TV World: Do you think anybody on Fei Long will take a similar strategy in getting rid off Frosti and Sherea? Maybe throw a challenge to get them out. Do you expect that from any Fei Long members?
Aaron: The thing is that if someone was watching [Peih-Gee and Jaime] put that puzzle together... Unfortunately, I would have loved to turn around off the beach -- I was laying on my back, I was exhausted -- I would have loved to have turned around and watched it. But I chose not to. I wasn't going to get in their hair, I was going to let them work and do their part of the challenge.
If someone at Fei Long was paying attention and saw exactly how [Peih-Gee and Jaime] were acting and what they were doing, in the next episode there might be two tribes not wanting to win, which would be really weird.
Reality TV World: Do you think Fei Long will be able to figure out what happened?
Aaron: Yeah, because I mean at this point in the game there's been four people [from Zhan Hu] eliminated and Peih-Gee and Jaime are both smart cookies. People know that. They've seen them in challenges, they're strong but they're also smart. And not to be able to put that together, there was only three people working on the puzzles, and then the other three or four people are watching. So if they were observing, they might be looking for something in the future.
Reality TV World: Following your conversation with Erik that Zhan Hu had decided to eliminate James, how confident were you heading into Tribal Council?
Aaron: I thought it was going to be James all the way. That's what people told me. They said, "We're going to take out the biggest threat. We're going to take out James. He doesn't want to be here. He's yelling at everybody." I'm like, "Okay." Because I wasn't going to be like, "Oh really! Well I think we ought to keep him around!" (laughing) It was either going to be him or me, and I kind of knew that since they had thrown it. So... All the way up until the end I thought I was going to be alright.
Reality TV World: You decided to vote for James. What was your thinking behind that? Did you really think Erik, Peih-Gee and Jaime would see that and decide to target one of themselves instead of you at the next Tribal Council?
Aaron: I really thought that there wasn't going to be one vote for Jaime; there wasn't going to be a vote for Peih-Gee; and there wasn't going to be a vote for Erik. It was going to be all the votes for James or me. I thought, "Well, I can't vote for myself. So I'll vote for James."
I thought possibly that James would vote for Peih-Gee and maybe -- by some stroke of crazy imagination -- that Erik would vote for Peih-Gee, and then if I voted for James it would just be a complete mess. But it wasn't like that. The consensus was me. I feel bad for writing James' name down there, but at that point it was him or me and I had no doubt about it.
Reality TV World: Did you ever think your plan to vote for James would backfire on you, in the sense that it would show you as untrustworthy to the other Zhan Hu members because you turned on your fellow former Fei Long tribe member?
Aaron: Well the thing is that if they could have made out my writing... it might have been some sort of vendetta later if they figured that I voted for Peih-Gee, for any of those guys [Erik or Jaime]. If I was still around, I didn't want any of that information to get out.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised James was so vocal about his displeasure with Zhan Hu, and did that increase your confidence?
Aaron: Yeah, totally. I thought, "You go kid! You tell them like it is!" (laughing) because I thought he was going home. He was livid, and rightly so. I was angry on the inside, but I was still playing the game to the best of my knowledge and ability. I said, "This is a time to lay low. If he wants to berate them the way he is and that causes him to leave the game, then that's how it's going to be."
Reality TV World: Is there anyone you would really like to see win? Anybody you don't want to see win?
Aaron: I really want to see James win. I really, really do. I hope he makes it out from Zhan Hu unscathed. I don't know how he's going to do that. It will be interesting to see next week.
As far as anyone I don't want to see win, probably Jean-Robert. I probably wouldn't want to see him win.
Reality TV World: Just because you guys butted heads?
Aaron: Yeah, we butted heads... It will be really interesting. I don't think he's going to win, but it will be really interesting if he would. Kind of like a [Survivor: Pearl Islands castaway Jon "Johnny Fairplay" Dalton] character -- who everyone hates -- but he's going to make it a really far way...
Reality TV World: That's not a bad analogy.
Aaron: But [Jean-Robert] won't make it to the final. He won't be the final person. On the [jury] vote, I don't think anyone's going to vote for him. He surely won't get Courtney's vote!
Reality TV World: What was your strategy going into the game and do you think it worked?
Aaron: (laughing) Well, you know what, if you had taken out the twist of fate, I think I could have gone a lot longer obviously. Obviously!
My strategy was to get in an alliance that I really trusted. It really was there. Luckily, I was also on the tribe that was winning. So I really wanted to do that as well. I think with my leadership, we were winning and we had the stronger team, and with my strong alliance, I thought it's okay if we go to the merge and then we just start to pick-off Zhan Hu as being the outnumbered tribe. Then you go from there.
I thought my strategy was perfect... Except for the twist.
Reality TV World: So what's next for you? What are you doing now?
Aaron: Right now I'm back in Venice Beach, taking some time off. Still teaching some surfing lessons. I've been entertaining some friends and family over at my house. I've been going on a couple vacations to see friends and family. They were worried about me out there.
If anything, it just taught me you never know what's right around the corner. In the entertainment field, [in] whatever life brings me -- I just thank God that I got a chance to experience this.